And He said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath‘.Mark 2:27 (ESV)
Human beings need rest. There’s no escaping the need for a break, and we’d all go a little crazy if we never stopped to enjoy everything we work for.
Sabbath is the perfect opportunity to take this kind of restorative rest.
Sabbath means to stop for the purpose of rest.1 God established the original Sabbath at creation (Genesis 2:3), when He shifted from “making” to “enjoying.”
He set the seventh day apart from the rest of the week, so we can experience that same enjoyment on a regular basis.
To truly understand the depth of this blessing and the many benefits and promises that come with it, we’ll go over:
- Where Sabbath came from
- Mental and physical benefits of the Sabbath
- Spiritual benefits of the Sabbath
- How people enjoyed Sabbath in the Bible
- How we can benefit from a weekly Sabbath today
We’ll look at all these points using Scripture, starting at the very beginning.
Where did Sabbath come from, and why was it created?
After Genesis 1 tells us how God created our earth, Genesis 2 begins on a note of reflection. God declared His satisfaction in what He made, then stopped and “rested.” And as He rested, He “blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for on it He rested from all His work of creation” (Genesis 2:3, CSB).
It’s further explained in Exodus 16, again in the context of resting on the seventh day after a full week of work. This is also right after the Israelites were freed from slavery (during which they definitely did not get to celebrate Sabbath). God was helping them to become a structured, organized, principled nation.
A big focus in this transition was establishing a new work ethic. As slaves, they worked from dawn to dusk every day, with little regard for their wellbeing. So God reminded them of the Sabbath—a necessary piece of a sustainable work schedule.
Six days to focus on what needed to be done, then a full day of complete rest.
When we get to the Ten Commandments just a few chapters later, we see the fourth commandment presented as a memorial of creation (Exodus 20:8-11).
It makes sense. After working six straight days, wouldn’t you want a break? God knew we needed it. And He knew we needed dedicated time to stop, reflect, and acknowledge Him as the Creator and sustainer of life.
Each week, Sabbath frees us from the constant rat race of a world that expects so much from us. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.
But why would it need to be a “commandment”? Why would God make a day of rest part of His Law?
First, think about the Israelites receiving the Ten Commandments. As slaves, they were used to living by commands. They were still learning how to think for themselves, care for themselves, and conduct themselves as a benevolent, supportive community.
They needed to be told to rest, or they probably wouldn’t stop! Though this was a commandment, it also gave them permission to stop. Permission to dedicate the day to God, to the enjoyment of His creation, and to their wellbeing.
They needed a proper schedule and regimen—one that benefited them, not enslaved them.
And if we’re honest with ourselves…we often need that, too. Sometimes we don’t stop until someone tells us to. Sometimes we also need that permission to switch out of “go” mode.
But simply “stopping” isn’t the only thing Sabbath is about. God wants us to get the full effect of this day of rest—to find the Sabbath “a delight” (Isaiah 58:13, ESV).
So let’s look more closely at all the benefits the Sabbath offers.
Mental and physical benefits of the Sabbath
It’s not hard to see why a break from the weekly chaos would be beneficial for our minds and bodies. But is it just the act of taking a break, or is there more to it?
A study published in 2012 showed that the real benefit of taking time off was “detachment” from work… not just not working.
Not thinking about work, worrying about work, preparing for work, etc.
Specifically, the study revealed that people who “experience more detachment from work during off-hours are more satisfied with their lives and experience fewer symptoms of psychological strain.”
Plain and simple—proper rest reduces stress. Intentional, dedicated rest.
So this isn’t about just stopping for a quick break in between things. Sabbath is a full stop—24 hours that allow us to “detach” ourselves from the burdens and obligations of the rest of the week.
Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Matthew 11:28 (NASB)
What better method and opportunity to connect with God? Finally, all other distractions are out of the way. We can recharge our minds and our bodies while focusing on the One who created them.
To get more specific, a Sabbath rest provides these health benefits:
It shows us we’re worth more than what we do or what we produce
If God thought our rest and enjoyment were so important that He made it part of His loving Law, it’s clear we are more valuable to Him than anything else. Our existence, our identities, our gifts…these things that make us “us” are much more important than the things we do or what we accomplish.
The rest of the world can make it feel like it’s the opposite. How much did you get done today? How can you get more people to like you? How can we get ahead of the rest?
God tells us to just “be.” Enjoy who we are, who He is, and what He made for us.
And even though things aren’t perfect in this messed-up world, we can rest in the hope that one day soon, Jesus will return for us.
It shows us we don’t have to be enslaved by the world’s expectations
Think about it. If we feel like we can’t say no to our work or obligations for one day, that elevates work as more important than our own wellbeing. (And that has echoes of the slavery God wanted to deliver us from!)
The Sabbath validates our worth and gives us permission to say “no” to those obligations for one day each week. Our allegiance is to God—our Creator—not to the world, which will never be satisfied.
No one can serve two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and wealth.Matthew 6:24 (NASB)
The world says, “Make yourself more. Give us more.”
God says, “You are enough. I want to spend time with you.”
It gives us time to assess, refocus, and be present in the world God created
You don’t need to read scientific data reports to know that rest helps mental health, as well as our physical health. Mental exhaustion can feel like a whole new level of tiredness because it usually carries stress with it.
Without taking some time to get away from all the hustle and bustle, it’s difficult to think clearly and focus on the things we value.
And that’s the design of the Sabbath. Knowing there’s a dedicated day off, it’s the perfect chance for prayerful reflection.
And that fits in with the Hebrew root words used for “Sabbath.” Shabbat means to “stop for rest.” And another word often used interchangeably with shabbat is nuach, which means to “rest in place.” To stay put, to be still, to be present.
Sabbath is a time to be relaxed and to live in the moment, which makes it easier to appreciate God’s creation around us.
It strengthens our relationships and our communities
Notice the wording of the fourth commandment:
…You must not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female servant, your livestock, or the resident alien who is within your city gates. For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy.Exodus 20:10-11 (CSB)
The rest that comes through Sabbath isn’t just for some people. It’s for all people. Servants, strangers, and even animals!
This provides an ideal opportunity for gathering together as a family, as friends, or as a faith community—all in the name of Jesus and what He’s done for us.
When everyone is allowed to stop and enjoy the world around them together, relationships can grow, too. Our bonds can deepen as we worship, pray, and study the Bible together.
Healthy relationships and a strong community provide support and peace of mind, which in turn promotes both physical and mental well-being.
Spiritual Benefits of the Sabbath
Closely alongside these physical and mental benefits are the spiritual benefits. A time for recharging physical and mental health also paves the way for healthy spiritual development. It allows us to be more calm, present, and focused on God.
Sabbath is a day to think about the things we can’t see but affect us every day. This is difficult to do during the busy week when the “material world” takes up all our attention.
We need regular time off to quiet our minds and look for God’s handiwork in the things around us.
Psalm 46:10 invites us to “be still and know He is God” (ESV), which is something we can do in a special way on the Sabbath.
So it’s more than just stopping what we’re doing. It’s stopping with the intention of directing our thoughts to Him.
Other translations of this verse further echo what we covered earlier, about detaching from our weekly worries and work, in order to stop with the intention of looking to God.
“Stop striving and know that I am God” (NASB).
“Stop fighting and know that I am God” (CSB).
Disengaging from our weekly obligations and pursuits helps us welcome the spiritual benefits the Sabbath can provide.
A refreshed mind for reflection, contemplation, and connection with God
When our minds and bodies are rested, we can think more clearly. Then we can appreciate the Sabbath as a dedicated time for prayer, study, and worship.
It’s a great time to reflect on the previous week, looking for the subtle ways God blessed us and kept us going.
Spending time with God will always strengthen your relationship with Him. Spending quality time with Him allows that to deepen even further.
When we’re intentional about how we spend our time, it helps channel our effort and energy into what we’re choosing to do. Sabbath can be our opportunity to patiently and prayerfully connect with God. We can be in communion with Him during everything we do that day.
A more active prayer life
Prayer is our primary communication method with our Creator. But it can be all too easy to rush through our prayers during the week. We’re often distracted or in a hurry.
And while there are many ways to develop healthy prayer habits even during busy workweeks, the Sabbath allows us to devote ourselves more completely to our prayer time.
You could even make a day of it!
Sometimes Sabbath prayers can happen while on a walk, on a hike, while watching your kids, etc. It can be a wonderful experience to pray throughout the day or plan activities that help remind us that God is our priority.
A perfect time for Bible study
Just like Sabbath is a perfect opportunity for prayer, it’s a perfect opportunity to devote to studying God’s Word.
There can be significant benefits to studying with other believers. And Jesus promises us that “where two or three or gathered in my name, there I am among them” (Matthew 18:20, ESV).
That’s what makes the Sabbath an ideal time to meet together at church for corporate worship.
You can even gather to study in Sabbath school, at someone’s home, or at a park.
It’s also a great time to read the Bible with just you and God or with your family.
How did people enjoy the gift of the Sabbath in the Bible?
God celebrated the first Sabbath by stopping and reflecting (Genesis 2:2, 3). People throughout the Bible followed this example to experience the blessing of the Sabbath:
They rested restoratively
“Work may be done for six days, but on the seventh day there is to be a Sabbath of complete rest…” (Leviticus 23:3, CSB).
“…and they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56, NKJV).
“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His” (Hebrews 4:9, 10, ESV).
They gave everyone the day off
The fourth commandment in Exodus 20 states that the Sabbath isn’t just for a small chosen few.
It includes “your son or daughter, your male or female servant, your livestock, or the resident alien who is within your city gates” (Exodus 20:10, CSB).
No person is left out. God’s people both enjoyed the Sabbath blessing and extended it to everyone in their family, in their community, in their employment, and in their vicinity.
They enjoyed the gift of fellowship by gathering together
In Leviticus, the Sabbath was mentioned as a day for “sacred assembly” (Leviticus 23:3, CSB). Similar wording is used in the New Testament when describing the Sabbath practice of the disciples and the early church (Acts 13:44; 17:2; 18:4).
The study of Scripture (Acts 13:14, 15) and group prayer (Acts 16:13) were common during these gatherings.
And when looking at the life of Jesus, we read of Him going to the temple on Sabbath to read and study Scripture with His community (Mark 1:21; Mark 6:2; Luke 13:10).
They set business aside
A step further than simply not working, the Bible tells us of Israel’s own methods of “detaching” from their work.
They refrained from trading, bartering, buying, and selling (Nehemiah 10:31).
They even guarded against outside influences that would try to distract them from the complete rest of the Sabbath (Nehemiah 13:15-22).
They wrote and sang praises to God
Some psalms were written specifically to praise God on the Sabbath (Psalm 92).
In temple services, the Levites stood up to sing to God when offerings were given on Sabbath (1 Chronicles 23:30, 31).
They enjoyed life’s simple pleasures
Jesus and His disciples walked through grainfields on a Sabbath afternoon, picking and eating fresh grain (Matthew 12:10-12; Mark 2:23; Luke 6.1).
Jesus also mentioned in many different ways that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath (Mark 12:11, 12; Luke 6:9). When we see Sabbath as an opportunity to help people and connect with them, we’re celebrating the nature of our loving, relational God.
How can we enjoy the gift of the Sabbath in today’s fast-paced world?
It’s no question how difficult it can be to “disconnect” or “detach” from all the obligations of life. Especially when our electronic devices follow us around everywhere we go.
But that means the benefits of the Sabbath can be even more meaningful for us when we make an effort to guard this time each week.
While Sabbath is a great time to go outside and enjoy nature, one thing we can remember is that enjoying God’s creation can mean so many different things.
The key is our focus and acknowledgment. God made the world, and He made us into creative human beings, in His image. He’s given us the ability to create our own things out of the materials He put into the world. So we can appreciate God’s creation as we appreciate the roof over our heads, the people we know and love, and simple pleasures like our couches, shoes, bikes, gardens, or hot beverages on a cold day.
By enjoying and reflecting upon life, and acknowledging that all the good things come from God, we are celebrating Sabbath.
Try making some time on Sabbath to pray a prayer of appreciation. Read a new passage of Scripture. Call an old friend. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Do something special that you don’t do any other day. And know that God’s Holy Spirit is with you wherever you go.
Preparing for the Sabbath ahead of time also helps ensure we reap the most benefit from this day of rest. As the week nears its end, try to finish everything you can by Friday. It’s easier to detach yourself from the workweek when pending projects aren’t still hanging over your head.
Many people plan to do grocery shopping and house cleaning near the end of the week. That way, when Friday’s sunset rolls around, it’s easier just to sit back and forget about all the “things” of life for 24 blissful hours.
When we really think about how much we try to cram into our lives, what a fitting gift for God to give us each week. Permission to pause. An opportunity to reflect on life and to worship the God who made it.
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